|Vol. IV, No. 6
Elul 5606, September 1846
by Isaac Leeser
We are apt to speak of the progress which we have made within the last half century; and self-congratulations innumerable are constantly uttered about the march of improvement which we have seen developing itself within our presence, and we profess to experience heartfelt pleasure at the bright and beautiful change which has come over our condition in modern times. Truly, there has come a change, which may well fill our souls with astonishment, when we contrast what has been with that it which passes now before us; but we ought also not to forget that the revolution wrought in our favour has been the work of Providence, and that we should therefore feel grateful, and look to the Source whence our enlargement has sprung, to aid us yet farther and for ever with his blessed protection, that we may be permitted to live at peace among the gentiles whilst it is his will that we shall remain far from our original home, the beloved land of Israel.
In America especially, where the constitution, the supreme law of the land, secures to every person the enjoyment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, without any one having the right to question him concerning his religious opinions or acts, the children of Jacob have received a new home, where they can, if so their mind inspires them, pursue any avocation or line of business, without restraint or molestation on account of their religion. There are, we acknowledge, prejudices existing in the minds of many honest Christians against the Jews as such, and many are the efforts made to destroy their national existence by withdrawing them from the Synagogue into the multitudinous arms of the Church in its various divisions, each of which opens its own proper embrace to receive them. But all this merely depends upon individual efforts; the law itself, however, is innocent of the fault of wanton interference in our rights and inherent privileges as citizens of a free and equal country, which looks upon all its children as alike entitled to protection, and the untrammelled enjoyment of equality and liberty. So far then as regards our religious rights, we are upon the same platform with all other religious denominations; that is to say, we are as much protected against their questioning us in the discharge of what we deem our religious duties, as they are against our inquiring into the state of their belief and religious conduct; of course, we except moral delinquencies; for herein SOCIETY has a right paramount to all other considerations to restrain and to punish as may be deemed most advantageous to the general welfare. It is possible that at times the force of the opinion of the vast majority may be enabled to enact laws, which will affect injuriously the prerogative of equality in those whose numbers are too insignificant to make themselves felt of sufficient weight in counterbalancing the outcry of the many. But it is equally certain, that “the sober second thoughts” of a free people, (to borrow the expression of a celebrated statesman, whose views have had a powerful influence in the national councils,) will sooner or later overthrow all such interference in the rights of the whole people, especially if the action of unjust statutes should produce farther infringements than at first contemplated; for it is a well-known truth, that one wrong paves the way for another, till the whole evil becomes thereby unendurable, which even in tyrannical governments produces changes, whatever those in power may contrive to avert the ultimate end of all wrong-doing,
Judaism, therefore, we may assume as an undeniable position, has pointed out to it in the United States, and the countries acting in their government upon principles which are akin to those which are prevalent here, but especially in the United States, where there is no force from without sufficiently strong to act upon public sentiment, isolated as we are from Europe by that highway of nations the unfathomable sea,—we say Judaism has pointed out to it here a course full of glorious anticipations, and a path is opened to its progress, which if properly pursued will enable us to develope the true character of our heavenly institutions, in a manner more glorious and influential than ever was attained since the enemy overthrew our own state and destroyed our sanctuary. We do not indeed ask nor desire to make converts among our gentile neighbours, nor to obtain a separate interest in the state as a Jewish party, especially the latter, to which we for one are absolutely opposed as much as to the raising of a Christian party par excellence; but the glory and influence which we desire and believe attainable are the full developments of a noble Jewish character in the members of our own persuasion, and to lift them up to the highest level of honourable men and exemplary citizens, subject always to the maintenance of a strict adherence to our own religious laws. For sincere believers in the truth and permanence of our faith cannot desire political elevation if this must needs lay prostrate our attachment to the faith revealed on Sinai; and if political distinction should require sacrifices of the kind for its attainment, faithful Israelites will at once renounce this as much as our progenitors renounced all their possessions, country, and life, to maintain their fealty to their God. But as at best the offices of state can accrue but to a very few; we trust that Israelites will never become importunate office-hunters, nor seek to acquire their daily bread by running after the populace, to flatter them for their vote, or to wait upon those in power to drop graciously into their hungry mouth a few cast-off crumbs from the public table.
Let us be understood that we would not desire our people to withdraw from public pursuits, nor the service of the public in any honourable employment; but we surely would discourage the seeking of a petty employment for the mere bread they eat, when they can obtain a more honourable livelihood by the pursuit of some handicraft, the tillage of the soil, or merchantile employment. An office-beggar is a hateful object; and the means resorted to to obtain the desired end, are not always such as a religious person can conscientiously employ. For all practical purposes Israelites, as a people, desire political equality, not for the sake of obtaining office, but for the purpose of being eligible thereto; the right they contend for, and for aught else they are indifferent whether one of their own body or of another persuasion obtains the dignity and emolument of public employ. We have said this much that we may be better understood in the present and other remarks which we may have to offer hereafter; for we shall not hesitate to discuss political questions whenever they have a hearing on our condition as Jews.
The “Prospect” now is, that great numbers of Israelites will be induced to quit ancient Europe and settle in the new world, partly driven out by the iron hand of power, which renders their native countries unfit homes for those who pant for freedom; partly because the immense area of the western continent offers a wide field for individual enterprise, the like of which is unattainable in the confined and overcrowded districts of England, Germany, Poland, and the adjacent countries. One thing is certain, that the measures of exclusion which have been so long the policy of Christian government on the eastern side of the Atlantic, have enkindled a desire for happier homes in the bosom of the poorer classes of our people; some of the rich, indeed, have gradually merged into the masses of their oppressors by an outward adoption of the religion of the civil rulers, by which means they have entitled themselves to become the tyrant’s tools in the oppression of their late Israelitish brethren; so also have done some of those who had acquired the secular sciences, which they could best turn to account by apostasy; and when conscience did not speak loudly, conversions like these became a matter of course; and, though we could enlarge, we forbear,—the subject is too sickening. But after all, the masses, the immense majority of the Jews, could never relish the yoke, nor accept the treacherous bribes which were held out to them by the hand of deceit, and urged upon them by the tongue of falsehood. Many of them, therefore, for years past, have longed to quit their native land, which to them was not a home of joy; and they turned their faces westward to escape the land of oppression; and so greatly has emigration increased from time to time, despite of the hardships which have to be encountered by a long sea voyage, especially when joined to the scanty means of the travellers, that the various governments have, it would seem, at length become alive to the injury likely to result to the state by the expatriation of so many honest and industrious persons, who, had they not been ground down by oppression, would doubtless have exhibited a better state of mind and pursuits than can be now found among the poorer Israelites of Poland and southern Germany especially. Still it is greatly to be doubted whether any change of governmental measures would check materially the influx of Jews into America. Those once here have, in many cases, acquired such a degree of independence in their circumstances, as would have been beyond their reach in their native land; and hence they induced many others, either by direct invitation or the desire to be equally successful, to come over hither to improve their condition. At first the arrivals were but few and at comparatively rare intervals; of late years, however, as the ties of relationship existing between those here already and those yet behind in their native countries have become more ramified, the amount of emigration has become annually increased, until there is every probability that before long there will be many and numerous congregations in most parts of America, until we shall have indeed a Jewish public, respectable at least for its numerical strength, to a far greater extent than was thought of as likely but few years ago.
The impulse having accordingly been once given, we believe that no milder measures of government in our behalf will materially lessen the amount of those who will desire to seek a new home in the West; and the experiment having been found beneficial with the poorer classes, it is more than probable that the wealthy and well-educated will by degrees also repair to these shores to establish themselves permanently in business, and to rear their families as citizens of the United States or Canada. Were the Jews generally given to agriculture, there could be no doubt but that thousands would seek a home in the fertile soil of Western Virginia and Pennsylvania, and the states of Texas, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri, Canada, &c.; but as few of our German friends have any practical knowledge of this important pursuit, it is not to be expected that many will invest their means in experimenting as farmers, which would in all likelihood entail upon them great pecuniary losses. Nevertheless, should we be able to provide an asylum for our greatly afflicted Russian and Polish brothers, who, whatever may be said of the benevolent intentions of the Czar and his counsellors, are subject to the arbitrary will of an irresponsible despot and the exaction of his heartless underlings: there would be an absolute certainty that large masses would hasten hither as tillers of the ground, as many of them are practical farmers and farm-labourers, only providing that the modern Pharaoh would allow them “to go up out of his land;” for strange as it may seem, that he wishes, to judge from his measures, to rid himself of the Jews by forcing them, through the weight of tyranny, to forsake their faith, though there are anomalies even in this intention, it is nevertheless clear that he does not permit them to quit the country, by which means he would at once get rid of a population from which he appears to think the state can derive but little or no benefit. To our apprehension the best manner of serving the Russian Jews would be to withdraw them from Russia and Poland; and whatever other plans may be adopted to effect this; we see no reason why a home should not be provided for them in America, where they might settle say from fifty to five hundred families in one neighbourhood as farmers and raisers of stock. We farther believe that if proper exertions were made the government of the United States, or of Texas or Canada would assign to a respectable colony an ample tract of land conveniently situated near some navigable stream, to enable the settlers to transport their surplus produce to a good market; but even if such a public grant should not be attainable, there are many individuals who have large tracts of land, who would be glad enough to permit an industrious class of colonists to settle upon their properties on very favourable terms, and either lease them farms at a moderate rent, or sell them on long credits. There is ample room in the West, and even in Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia, where the climate is mild, and the soil new and fruitful, capable of making ample returns for the labours of the husbandman. The only question is, how are the means to be provided? It is true the project would not be feasible, if the colonists, should they be poor, were to receive no aid from Europe, since the means of American Israelites would not be adequate to bring over even a thousand souls, and provide them with the requisites for commencing a colony. But in the first place, there must be many in the countries named, who have ample means to pursue agriculture in this country, and would be glad to emigrate, provided a home were ready for them to receive them on their arrival. Many Christian Germans have arrived on these shores, and at once sought the new homes already selected for them by their friends who had been sent out before “to spy out the land.” Why could this not be done by Jews likewise? why could not a hundred young men come over, purchase a good, well-timbered tract of land, clear a sufficient space for immediate wants, build log-houses, obtain a small number of cows, oxen, and horses, and then send for the remainder of their families to join them in a land where they need not fear the emissaries of a tyrant, and where they are not compelled to transgress their religion, because state policy exacts it of them?
Besides the actual resources of the emigrants themselves, we entertain no doubt, but that the benevolent of England, Germany, and France would contribute considerable sums to forward any feasible plan of emigration to this country of the class of Jews under question; for no one who has correct feelings, but will be anxious to place as many as possible of our afflicted brothers beyond the reach of the policy of the Czar, which though apparently rendered milder at present, perhaps through the intervention of that intrepid Israelite Sir Moses Montefiore, is but too likely to become as excessively rigorous as ever, upon the first caprice of the irresponsible autocrat, or upon the first suspected offence of the Jews, in whom that is a national crime which in other persuasions is but the transgression of individuals. No, it cannot be the interest of our wealthy European Jews to leave their Russian brothers exposed to a chance even of the atrocities to which they have been subjected; hence it is not to be doubted but that a well-organized scheme of colonization would find a hearty response in the minds of thousands, who would be glad to aid if they but knew how aid might be rendered efficient. We have lately addressed a letter to a prominent Israelite in England on this very subject; but as yet we have not received a reply; still of this we are sure that a great deal of interest is felt upon the subject abroad, and that the idea is easily capable of being realized.—In the meantime, we earnestly wish those of our readers who are acquainted with agriculture in this country and other matters connected with this subject, to favour us with their ideas, in order to lay them before the public; and we would be glad were those who have the means and power to take some steps to render these those ideas efficient by some plan of action. It is impossible that we can look coldly on the distress which it is but too likely will overtake the Jews in Russia after 1850; now, therefore, is the time of action, and let us not be deceived by the apparent lull in the storm of persecution which we have lately witnessed.
We have much more to say about the “Prospect” of Jews in America; but we must reserve it for a later period. Meanwhile we earnestly invite the attention of our friends to the whole matter. Does it not call up reflections in their own minds? Let them but compare what we are now with what we were twenty years ago; and then let them answer, whether the subject is not one of the greatest moment.